Google used its I/O Developer Conference this year to introduce the world to the latest family of Pixel products, including a new member in the Pixel Watch. Yes, the long-awaited smartwatch has finally been announced, giving hope to Android users awaiting a true rival to the Apple Watch. While the Pixel Watch won’t arrive for several months, the Pixel 6a, Google’s midrange smartphone, is only weeks away. Its similarities to the excellent Pixel 6 could make it the best smartphone value on the market.
Those two products alone could have warranted their own keynote showcase. Instead, Google also revealed its long-term plans for Pixel hardware, teasing the upcoming Pixel 7, Pixel 7 Pro, and a mysterious tablet running Android. We also learned about Google’s new flagship wireless earbuds, the Pixel Buds Pro, which will launch alongside the Pixel 6a next month.
Before I get into the details, keep in mind that some devices were only briefly teased and won’t be arriving until later this year or even 2023. In any case, with so many new products coming, Android fans and longtime Google hardware owners have much to be excited about.
At long last, Google’s first smartwatch has arrived. As the rumours indicated, the Wear OS device is called the Pixel Watch, and its ultra-modern design consists of a circular domed watch face that replaces bezels with waterfalling edges. Made of recycled stainless steel, the watch has a prominent tactile dial on the right side and rubberised bands available in various colours to match the incoming Pixel smartphones.
Unfortunately, we’re still awaiting full specs. Until then, we know the Pixel Watch comes with Google Assistant, Fitbit apps, and Google Wallet. It will integrate with all of your Google Smart Home devices, which can be controlled with the company’s virtual assistant. Google recently teamed with Samsung to create a new Wear OS, and the Pixel Watch will adopt the software, which Google promises will feel “fluid and easy to navigate,” with glanceable interfaces and rich notifications.
Google acquired Fitbit at the start of last year, so it’s no surprise that the Pixel Watch shares fitness features with its more activity-focused counterparts, including continuous heart rate monitoring and sleep tracking. And like a Fitbit, it will track “Active Zone Minutes” when you’re working out so you can compare your activity to previous sessions. The Pixel Watch will be available in the fall alongside the Pixel 7 phones. We should learn more about the device, including pricing, in the months ahead.
Google’s next flagship smartphones were revealed at Google I/O, but don’t let them take away from a device launching in just weeks, not months. Google’s Pixel 6a is replacing the outgoing Pixel 5a — one of the best affordable smartphones ever — as the company’s midrange value pick. Based on specs alone, the Pixel 6a is on track to top the likes of the iPhone SE, Samsung Galaxy S52, and other contenders as the best phone for under $800 — and by some margin.
Where the Pixel 5a sacrificed performance compared with the Pixel 5, the Pixel 6a is equipped with the same Tensor processor as the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. Google’s custom mobile SoC, Tensor should give the Pixel 6a significantly faster everyday speeds than its predecessor. Not only should it match the Pixel 6 on raw power, but the Pixel 6a also gains the same Pixel exclusive features (like Live Translate), security architecture (with the Titan M2 chip), and 5G connectivity. Paired with Tensor are 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.
Zooming out, the Pixel 6a looks nearly identical to its pricier flagship counterparts, sporting the same camera bar on a recycled aluminium frame. Up front is a large (but more manageable) 6.1-inch display, and on the rear is an upgraded dual-camera setup with an enhanced ultra-wide lens. Face Unblur, Magic Eraser and True Tone, Google’s nifty camera features, all make a return to this budget device.
Google promises “24 hours” of battery life thanks to adaptive battery features and up to 72 hours when Extreme Battery Saver is enabled. The Pixel 6a is IP67 certified, which is a notch below the IP68 rating on the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. The Pixel 6a will be available in Charcoal, Chalk and Sage when it goes on pre-order for $749 on July 21 (to be available July 28).
Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro
At the risk of drowning out the Pixel 6a, Google also teased the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro, successors to the company’s latest flagship devices. These upcoming models won’t arrive until this fall, but Google isn’t waiting to drum up excitement in the meantime. So far, we know only a few key details.
For one, Google is iterating on the current design language with a tweak to the camera module. Instead of a black shade spanning the entire length, the camera bar matches the trim of the phone while the lenses — dual on the Pixel 7 and trio on the Pixel 7 Pro — are discreet outlines. This gives a more luxurious appearance to this recycled polished aluminium and glass device, or at least that seems to be the intention. Based on the provided images, the Pixel 7 family will come in various colours; my unofficial descriptions are white/silver, black/charcoal, sage/gold and lemongrass/gold.
Google tells us the Pixel 7 will run on a second-generation Tensor chip and promises improvements to the camera, performance and speech. We’ll learn more about the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro in the coming months.
Pixel Buds Pro
Google also revealed new flagship wireless earbuds: Pixel Buds Pro. Set to compete against the AirPods Pro, the Pixel Buds Pro add noise-cancelling technology that consists of a custom processor, algorithms, and speakers. One of the most frequent complaints I hear about wireless earbuds is that they don’t fit comfortably. To resolve this, the Buds Pro adapt to users’ unique ear shape and conform to their ear canals while monitoring pressure.
Another interesting feature called Volume EQ promises to dynamically adapt music to your listening volume so bass tones don’t disappear when you listen at low levels. When you decrease the volume, the Buds Pro will increase the bass while balancing the mids and highs, so the overall dynamics remain the same. It’s an interesting concept that I’m eager to test, though I’m wary about the bass overlapping into the mids and muddying the sound signature. What I have no doubts about is multi-point connectivity, a wonderful addition that allows you to connect the buds to multiple devices.
There is also a transparency mode when you want to hear your surroundings, and Google promises good call quality via beamforming mics, a voice accelerometer, and wind-blocking mesh covers. Voice calls on the Pixel Buds A-Series, it should be said, sound very good.
The Pixel Buds Pro are water and sweat resistant and get 7 hours of listening on a charge with ANC turned on, and up to 20 hours with the charging case, which supports wireless Qi charging.
Google is giving tablets another try. Whereas the company’s short-lived Pixel Slate ran Chrome OS, the mysterious tablet teased at the company’s I/O conference is powered by Android. That isn’t too surprising given Google’s past failures and its recent Android 12L initiative, a software update specifically designed to improve the “big screen” experience on tablets and foldables. To that end, my colleague Florence Ion saw a render of the unnamed Pixel tablet running Material You widgets and used the word “enticing” to sum up her feelings.
Google hasn’t told us much about this upcoming Android tablet, only briefly teasing it at its I/O event. We know it will run on Google Tensor, the proprietary chip powering the Pixel 6, Pixel 6 Pro, and Pixel 6a, and that it is meant as a companion device for these smartphones, much like the Galaxy Tab is a partner to Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones. The only image we’ve seen of the tablet shows a single camera setup and sloped edges; it looks, and excuse the comparison, somewhat like the entry-level iPad. Google hopes to ship the slate next year.